For Heaven's Sake, by Brian Kingslake

from Brian Kingslake, "Inner Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension (J. Appleseed & Co. : Boston, MA 1991)

Table of  Contents


Part I: A Pivotal Man


A Pivotal Man

Emerson said of Emanuel Swedenborg: "A colossal soul, he lies vast abroad upon his time, uncomprehended by them, and requires a long focal distance to be seen." Thomas Carlyle called him, "One of the loftiest minds in the realm of mind . . . one of the spiritual suns that will shine brighter as the years go on." Balzac wrote, "Swedenborg's theocracy is sublime, and his creed is the only one acceptable to superior souls." Other writers have likened him to Leonardo da Vinci.

Truly, Aristotle, Leonardo and Swedenborg had this in common, that they were universal geniuses. Each comprehended in his own work all the knowledge available in his day, and pointed creatively to the new kinds of knowledge that would supersede it. They were pivotal men, around whom the intellectual history of humankind seemed to hinge. The main difference between them was that Swedenborg went beyond and above the intellect, into the region of Spirit—the Spiritual World. He abandoned natural philosophy, and devoted the last thirty years of his long life to theology. This, in our view, makes him by far the greatest of the three; but, in the view of most of his contemporaries, it brought him into disrepute, mockery and disgrace! From being a scientist he became a prophet; and, like the prophets of old, he attacked the religious establishment of his day, and was attacked by it.

The son of a bishop, he declared that the Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant, was corrupt, liquidated, finished, dead; and that a new church, more truly Christian, was being established behind the scenes by the Lord to replace it. Moreover, he claimed that the Lord had revealed to him, Emanuel Swedenborg, the doctrines of this "New Church," and had commissioned him to write them down and publish them to the world. This assumption of divine authority shocked the intelligentsia of his day. They regarded it as a kind of megalomania. Yet, in fact, it was evidence of a self-effacing modesty on Swedenborg's part. If he had claimed the doctrines as a product of his own unenlightened intellect—that would have been presumption indeed! But no; they were a revelation of truth from God. Predictably, the leaders of the church tried to prove him insane. Failing in this (since he was obviously very sane), they resorted to persecuting his followers. Even this did not prevent his influence from spreading; so they took another more effective line. They boycotted him intellectually, ignoring his ideas, excluding his teachings from the syllabus of their theological seminaries, pretending he never existed! Ultimately they succeeded in burying him in their dusty encyclopedias, trusting hopefully that few readers would find him there and that eventually he would be forgotten.

All this took place long, long ago. Today the death of the old Christianity, as announced by Swedenborg, can no longer be denied. Even bishops and other leaders of the establishment are admitting the utter ineffectualness of the ancient creeds, and are striving after more relevant interpretations of doctrine to fill the vacuum. They speak of "the renewal of Christianity"—which seems to be a synonym for the "New Church." Is this not the time to take another look at the teachings of the Swedish Seer?

To read the thirty-odd massive volumes in their undigested state is a daunting prospect. Swedenborg, like other scholars of his day, wrote in Latin, and most of the available English translations are over-literal and highly Latinized. He lived in an age of learned leisure, writing at enormous length, making few (if any) concessions to his readers. Many of his ideas and concepts were so original that he could only express them by coining new terms, or by using familiar words in an unfamiliar sense. The gems of wisdom are indeed hidden in a tough matrix! What is needed, I feel, is a predigested version of his main teachings. The present book is an attempt to supply this need. I am presenting you here with my own personal interpretation of the whole corpus of New Church doctrine, distilled from a lifelong acquaintance with Swedenborgian thought, but expressed in my own terms. By reading this little book, you will get the gist of the great man's theological system; and will, I hope, be helped in your own regeneration. After this you should read systematically through the Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, compiled by Samuel Warren (776 pages, available from the Swedenborg Society, London, or the Swedenborg Foundation, West Chester, PA, which consists of carefully-selected extracts from all the writings, arranged under subjects. By that time, you will be introduced and can be turned loose to forage for yourself in the broad meadows of Swedenborgiana.

To Chapter 1